ADJUSTING TO LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES

Darina Kumanova

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

When Darina Kumanova was eight years old, living in Bulgaria, the last thing on her mind was moving to the United States and learning English.

She was simply a young girl passing the time by playing the sport she loved: volleyball.

As she grew older, that hobby turned into a passion. Before long, she was a senior in high school, strongly considering playing collegiate volleyball.

“I reached out to some of my friends who were playing collegiate volleyball in the US, and they raved about what an amazing experience it was,” said Kumanova.

“I wanted to be part of that experience, too. Moving to the US to play volleyball and gain a full-ride scholarship sounded like a dream come true to me.”

It was settled then.

Moving to a new country, learning a new language and inevitably experiencing a fair amount of culture shock were in store for her, but she knew it would all be worth it.

She was coming to the land of opportunity.

Challenging the limitations

Going to college is one of the first big life decisions young adults have the opportunity to make. There’s a significant amount of pressure in finding the school that’s the perfect fit.

Fortunately, she had the support of her family the entire way, and could lean on them to help her in the decision process.

“My family completely supported my decision to move to the US to play volleyball,” said Kumanova.

“My dad’s the one who helped me get into volleyball in the first place, so when I told him that I wanted to come to the US, earn a scholarship and gain experience to one day play professionally, he was unbelievably proud. He, along with the rest of my family, agreed to do everything in their power to help make my dream a reality.”

She was on the right start to that dream when she committed to UMBC — the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

After a season at UMBC, she transferred to University of the Pacific, where she was aiming to compete against stiffer competition.

“I enjoyed my time at UMBC, but I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could play at a higher level,” said Kumanova.

“When the opportunity came for me to transfer to Pacific, this was a chance for me to play in the highly respected West Coast Conference. In addition to that, even dating back to my time in Bulgaria, I’ve always had an affection for California and wanted to live there. Continuing my college career in California at Pacific was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”

Self-sufficient in America

There’s change, and then there’s going from Bulgaria to the United States and two separate colleges in UMBC and Pacific.

It’s fair to say the word change would be an understatement for Kumanova, and the transition was far more difficult than a kill on the volleyball court.

“The transition was difficult mostly because I couldn’t speak English very well, so that was tricky to navigate,” said Kumanova.

“I did take English classes in high school, but that’s different from actually being in the US where I have to speak English all the time in order for people to understand me.”

In the last few years, her English has improved immensely. Her taste for American food is still a work in progress, though.

“It’s kind of funny that food was such a big adjustment for me, but it really has been,” said Kumanova.

“I’m very much a dairy person – I love yogurt and cheese and all of that. But let me tell you, American yogurt tastes much different than Bulgarian yogurt. It’s not even close!”

And a tale that’s old as time for college students, she had to learn to start cooking for herself, as she could no longer rely on the warm and succulent meals from her grandmother back in Bulgaria.

“Becoming independent is just another thing I learned during my time in college,” said Kumanova.

“I have to take care of myself now. I’m fortunate to have plenty of friends, but all of my family is back home in Bulgaria, so it’s up to me to be responsible and independent as I transition and navigate my time in America. It can be a challenge at times, but it’s a challenge I embrace and am a better person because of it.”

When the opportunity came for me to transfer to Pacific, this was a chance for me to play in the highly respected West Coast Conference. In addition to that, even dating back to my time in Bulgaria, I’ve always had an affection for California and wanted to live there. Continuing my college career in California at Pacific was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Never stop improving

Kumanova, who switched her major from media X to sports management last season, also handles business outside of the court in the classroom, as she was recently named to the College Sports Communicators Academic All-District Team.

To qualify, student-athletes must obtain at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA in addition to being a prominent member of their team, athletically.

“It’s always nice to have your hard work be recognized, but I certainly don’t play for the individual accolades and awards,” said Kumanova.

“My dedication in the gym and the classroom revolves around my genuine love for volleyball and going to school. I strive to improve as a student-athlete every single day, and that’s what drives me and motivates me to work as hard as I do. But I am appreciative of the honor and to know people are noticing the work I’ve put in.”

In her remaining seasons, the junior is looking forward to helping elevate the program in any way that she can, and is hopeful to win the West Coast Conference and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“When I was at UMBC, we won our conference and I got to compete in the NCAA Tournament, and it was the experience of a lifetime,” said Kumanova.

“I’d love the chance to accomplish that feat here at Pacific, and we’re trending in the right direction. We’ve beaten high-quality teams the last few seasons in BYU and Pepperdine specifically, so I’m hoping we can build off those wins and reach our ultimate goal of competing in the NCAA Tournament.”

It’s safe to say playing volleyball against the best teams in the country at the NCAA Tournament is an experience Kumanova could get used to quite quickly.

Unlike American yogurt.